The vampire facial has been widely used by celebrities around the world, like Kim Kardashian who swear by its results. It's an anti-aging therapy that uses your own blood to inject into your face using tiny needles.
In 2018, a large VIP Spa center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, made headlines, as two of its clients who had undergone the vampire facial and was allegedly exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C through the human bloodstream.
What is the Vampire Facial?
The Vampire Facial, also known as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or vampire face-lift, is an anti-aging treatment that uses the growth factors from activated platelets. It's also called autologous mesotherapy because the injected solution (i.e. the enriched plasma) comes from our own body.
Growth factors are proteins with regenerative and remedial properties that are produced by certain cells in our body. They have the ability to enhance the repairing process of the damaged tissues and to activate the stem cells.
How Does the Vampire Facial Work?
In order to perform the autologous PRP mesotherapy, first, the physician takes some blood from the patient. This blood is then centrifugated so that the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) can be isolated, which, afterwards, is activated by the addition of calcium ions. The activated platelets have the ability to release growth factors. By that means, the damaged skin tissues are detected and restored.
The vampire facial is applied to skin areas where regeneration is needed. It can be performed either by injection using the classic method of mesotherapy or using a micro-needling device. The results are visible almost immediately after the first session, offering a more youthful-looking and glowing face.
Who Should Avoid the Vampire Facial?
The vampire facial is not recommended for people suffering from malignancies (during the last 5 years), from chronic blood diseases (leukemia, thrombocytosis, etc.), HIV infection, liver or kidney disease, hereditary skin diseases (eg collagenation, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome, etc.).
It's also contraindicated in severe pathological conditions (eg after severe hemorrhage, low hematocrit, cachexia etc). And finally, it should be avoided in the presence of other rare diseases (hereditary, collagen, autoimmune, etc.).
How Safe is a Vampire Facial?
It's true that some of the PRP therapies are believed to be safe and they have even been approved by the FDA. However, this designation does not yet include the vampire facial. The autologous PRP in the face is a purely aesthetic treatment, which still lacks specific regulation.
There are several health care professionals that have second thoughts about its safety and efficacy, and believe that more research and strict rules are needed before it should be universally accepted. (Read 9 Myths Surrounding Trending Cosmetic Interventions: What to Believe and What You Shouldn't.)
It's also true, however, that, in spite of the alarming headlines, the vampire facial is not a generally unsafe or life-threatening therapy in itself. Since for the treatment your own blood is used, the risk of side effects and potential allergic reactions to the plasma that is injected are minimized. Some minor adverse effects, though, in the injection site may include mild irritation, temporary bruising and swelling, itching or discoloration.
These side effects don't last long and are similar to those experienced with other soft tissue fillers and injectables, such as Botox or Juvederm. (Read Considering Juvederm? Here's What You Need to Know.)
We should always bear in mind, however, that there are always some dangers when it comes to treatments or other interventions that include the use of needles, particularly when those needles are not used by trained medical professionals. The three most serious infections that can be passed on to you by non-sterile needles are HIV and Hepatitis B and C. These infections don't only affect you but your sexual partner(s), as well.
How Can I Protect Myself?
The two cases of VIP medispa reminded us of those dangers. The spa didn't obtain the proper licensing, resulting in the alleged HIV infections.
That's why it's of utmost importance, when you undergo any treatment either for medical or for cosmetic purposes, to make sure that the needles used are new or are properly sterilized. Before undergoing the treatment session, do not hesitate to ask about their sterilizing methods.
Ask if they can open a new needle or sanitize a used one in front of you. In case they don't use disposable needles, request to watch the sanitation process of your needle, and verify that the sanitizer has been recently checked. Although it may feel embarrassing or seem weird at the time, remember that it is all about your health.
Besides, a true professional will not judge you, as they will hear your concerns and the risks involved.
With incidents like those at the New Mexico spa, it's more than clear that there's a need for more surveillance and setting specific standards in the industry. To date, there are different rules in each American state regarding the requirements under which a medispa can be run.
It's not unusual for the responsible doctor to be only available on call rather than being on the premises. Such spas often pass themselves off as beauty salons. In reality, though, they offer potentially life-threatening treatments, as they require specific qualifications and knowledge of the appropriate infection control practices. (Read Black Market Plastic Surgery: Why So Many Are Choosing Deadly Injection Perfection.)
“In medispas, you can have untrained people doing procedures without proper supervision in unsafe settings,” explained Dr Michael McGuire, communications chair of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, to Prevention.
What We've Learned
There is promising research behind vampire facial supporting that it is one of the safest cosmetic procedures and it can really speed up the restoration of the damaged skin and enhance collagen production. However, this news sheds light on a serious and often neglected issue: it is essential to look for a licensed professional even for minimally invasive procedures.
The scary story from Albuquerque is truly the worst-case scenario. When performed using appropriate methods and taking all the safety measures, it is a reliable treatment. Ideally, you should consult a board-certified physician who is trained to perform treatments that involve needles, scalpels or syringes.
Although medispas may sound like they are all fruit masks and herbal creams, perfect skin is never worth contracting a blood-borne infection.